Tom Rich spent 30 years in Bucknell's mechanical engineering department working with colleagues and students, but his lasting legacy on the University and its surroundings is not sequestered to just the Dana building.
In his first decade at Bucknell, Rich immersed himself in teaching, research and curriculum development. The next decade brought an opportunity to serve as dean of engineering. In his third and final decade, he unleashed his passion for interdisciplinary experiences, which resulted in a devoted role in the Residential Colleges and teaming with a history professor to explore engineering's past and its impact on the world we know today.
That type of cross-disciplinary collaboration is another hallmark of Rich's tenure at the University. While serving as dean of engineering, Rich was approached by John Peeler, professor emeritus of political science, who coordinated the Residential College program. Peeler impressed upon Rich the need for more engineers to take part in the program to gain more interdisciplinary understanding. Rich was sold.
And once he stepped down from his post as dean, Rich jumped right in and taught in the Society and Technology Residential College. The experience of teaching with colleagues from the Arts and Sciences College, Rich notes, opened his eyes to a whole new form of educating.
"The Residential College experience broadens the faculty members as much as the students," Rich says. "I learned teaching methods that we don't use much in engineering, but that we can, and should. They give students the chance to learn and engage in a different form of self expression."
Through all of those decades of experience, Rich gained immeasurable insight into the small university's wide array of offerings, objectives and opportunities. And along the way, he learned a particularly valuable lesson. "One of my colleagues, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Maurice Aburdene, gave me some good advice: He said, ‘You shouldn't retire from something — you should retire to something.'"
And that's exactly what Rich is doing.
Over the years, Rich realized a great void in engineering education: That the history of engineering — unlike the history of government, economics or business — has gone largely unnoticed by even those in the engineering arena.
One way to fill that void? Looking in his own backyard.
Rich is now embarking on an in-depth study into the history of water power and grist mills in Union County. Rich and his research partner, David Del Testa, an associate professor of history at the University, are currently studying the dozens of mills that once dotted the area and will write a book for the Union County Historical Society.
"These mills are a window into the past of the county. They were the high-technology of the late 1700s and early 1800s," Rich says. "It's captured my imagination."
Rich may be stepping away from his day-to-day role on campus, but he will retain an Emeritus status and keep up his contacts and activity at the University, in addition to traveling with his wife, Mary Lou, and working on the historical research in Union County.
And the two-time Lehigh University graduate plans to keep rooting for his longtime home. "No question about it," he says. "Mary Lou and I go to Bucknell basketball games against Lehigh, and we root for Bucknell."
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